'Three totally different babies, two ever-changing boobs, four years of breastfeeding...this is what I've learnt'

When it comes to breastfeeding your baby, often the reality falls short of intentions. Now as we mark National Breastfeeding Week, a new survey has found that while 48% of pregnant mums want to breastfeed until the weaning stage, the reality is that only about 15% achieve this. We spoke to mum-of-three, Sarajane McCarthy about her experience.


"Growing up, I heard the horror stories of how I had “destroyed” my Mom’s boobs, so much so, that when my little sister was born, and the nurse asked “breast or bottle,” both my parents shouted in unison “BOTTLE”.

So, when I was expecting my first baby, I didn’t really give it much thought.  My attitude was, sure I’ll give it a go and see what happens. Well, what happened was pre-eclampsia." 

Sarajane is mum to three beautiful daughters. Abigail, Juliet and Claudia. She also runs Mindful Mama, mother and baby workshops. She says that after 2 weeks in the hospital, Abigail was delivered by emergency c- Section at 28 weeks and 1 day. 

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Boob goo

"My whole world was turned upside down.  I was a new mum, all alone in my room, with a tiny baby I couldn’t even hold, in another ward.  But my body, mind, and boobs all still thought they were still pregnant."  

I’ll never forget when the lactation nurse came into me, handed me a syringe, and told me to try and squeeze some boob goo into the minuscule hole at the top.  What followed was a lot of massaging, kneading, squeezing, pinching, more massaging, and a kind of knuckle roll and ta-dah...0.5ml!

I felt so embarrassed even bringing it up to the nurses in NICU, certain they’d just chuck it in the bin.  I could not have been more wrong.  They froze my tiny golden offering and some weeks later, when Abigail needed a blood transfusion, out it came, to give her the boost she needed.  I had no idea that each mother’s breast milk is specifically tailored to their child’s age and needs.  It’s like their own personalised multivitamin.  

I was exhausted from the constant expressing and I was stressed that I wasn’t producing enough. 

Having to leave the hospital without my baby, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  But thanks to my trusty hospital grade pump I was able to feel like there was something I could do, to help her.  To trick my boobs into thinking I was feeding a newborn baby, I had to wake myself every two to three hours during the night to pump.  I would spread my “baby porn,” as I called it, (just photos of Abigail) out on the bed and set myself up.  

When Abigail came home, after 8 weeks in NICU, she was on bottles of expressed breast milk.  As she got stronger, I was able to try and feed her myself but sometimes she would go blue.  Scary, as you can imagine.  So, I asked my district nurse for advice.  She looked at me like I’d ten heads, it was as if she had never met another premature baby mum. 

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She just kept repeating the official line “just put her to the breast”.  Eh, but she goes blue, “just put her to the breast.” I felt completely alone.  It was flu season so Abigail couldn’t leave the house. It meant that breast feeding groups and moms and tots weren't options for me.  I was exhausted from the constant expressing and I was stressed that I wasn’t producing enough. 

"There was a rather unfortunate incident in the Marks and Spencers café where a passerby got spray painted with breast milk"

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Then one day, I bit the bullet and I bought a tin of infant formula for premature babies. It sat in the cupboard for over a month, but even having it there made all the difference.  I relaxed, knowing that if I didn’t have enough that I could top her up with formula.  Abigail even began to latch better and before long she was feeding happily from the breast." 

Sarajane's story echos many women who find breastfeeding a challenge. But the truth is that is not always a straightforward experience. This week, a survey of over 800 mums and mums-to-be by BabyDoc Club found that almost three-quarters (73%) of pregnant mums intend to try to breastfeed their baby.  Of the BabyDoc Club mums with a baby aged under 2 years, the research found that 61% breastfed their baby for a time with two-thirds of these mums currently still breastfeeding.

The reasons behind the choice to breastfeed also varied. 86% said they are feeding their baby because they want to give their baby the best start in life. Bonding and the benefits to their own maternal health was the main reason for 12% of mums, while just 2% ranked convenience as the key factor for their choice.

Interestingly 77% of breastfeeding mums felt that they got the support they needed in hospital to help breastfeed their baby, however once home 55% of these mums struggled.

Every journey is different

Sarajane is keen to stress that everyone should do exactly what works for them and their family.  She had a very different experience her second time round.

"When Abigail was almost 3 and a half, we were blessed with her sister Juliet.  You couldn’t have imagined a more opposite birth experience.  I went into labour naturally at 37 weeks, though due to all the mindfulness I’d been practicing to help with the pain, nobody believed me.

Being open-minded is so important.  Your journey may not take the exact path you planned; I certainly never saw myself being milked by a machine at a friend’s wedding

By the time they checked me, Juliet was half way out. Six whole minutes later, and Juliet was born, without as much as a paracetamol!  She was put straight on to me and had latched on before I knew it.

And Juliet continued to be a superstar feeder.  Our only issue was that I had very fast let down.  A quick chat at a breastfeeding support group and the problem was solved by lying down so gravity would take over.  However, this was not until after a rather unfortunate incident in the Marks and Spencers café where a passerby got spray painted with breast milk!

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With Juliet, it all just worked.  So, we kept going.  Through teething, and teeth…. (TIP: keep your baby finger beside your nipple when feeding to insert into tiny choppers if they decide to take a bite).  However, the older she got, the more the comments came. 

“You’re STILL feeding her? If she can ask for it, she’s too old" and my personal favourite; “that’s not for her, you’re doing that for yourself.”  Like what does that even mean?  Looking back, I think comments like that did contribute to me weaning Juliet after 18 months.

The more comfortable you are with feeding out and about, the more you will get out of the house which is important for your mental health.  

Changing the plan is not failure

When we had Claudia, I was determined to do what was right for us, regardless of what others thought.  Although she was another emergency C section, at 37 weeks with a 9lb baby it was a whole other ball game.  She was placed on me right away and I was fortunate enough to be able to have her with me while I was in recovery.  In what should have been a sign of her independence, Claudia wriggled herself down to my left boob, and off she went.

From airplanes to poolside cabanas, parked cars to on top of a pile of ironing boards in IKEA, Claudia fed everywhere and anywhere.  I really recommend that moms get comfortable with breastfeeding in public as soon as possible. Invest in good breastfeeding bras, buy tops that come up/down easily, and always have spare muslin cloths, the giant ones work as a modesty cover and are breathable for baby. 

The more comfortable you are with feeding out and about, the more you will get out of the house which is important for your mental health.  

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Unfortunately, myself and Claudia’s breastfeeding journey was cut short, due to my health issues.  We got to just over a year and to be honest, we probably would have started weaning around the same time.  But the choice was taken away.  The fact that Claudia is my last baby made this even harder.  I felt robbed of those last few precious feeds.

So, three totally different babies, two ever-changing boobs, over four years of breastfeeding…. what did I learn?

In my Mindful Mama, mother and baby workshops, I always emphasise that every boob, every baby, every breastfeeding journey is different.  Being open-minded is so important.  Your journey may not take the exact path you planned; I certainly never saw myself being milked by a machine at a friend’s wedding.  Take your time and get to know your baby.  They will be quick to let you know what’s working or isn’t working for them.  Changing the plan is not failure."

The BabyDoc survey also found that 39% had tried to breastfeed and it just didn't work for them. Meanwhile, 33% of mums who had a baby in the last 12 months and decided not to breastfeed or had to stop within the first two weeks admitted she felt judged for doing so.

But Sarajane says nobody should be pitched against eachother - we are all just doing our best. "I cannot overemphasise the importance of finding your village, your support network, your tribe.  This could be friends or family, an online support group or a lactation specialist. 

A happy mom means a happy baby.  Take care of yourself, eat well, keep hydrated, rest often and at every opportunity let others help you.  Above all, trust yourself.  I discovered mindfulness after my first baby and now I am a qualified practitioner.

It has given me the strength and courage to seize opportunities and opened my heart to new people. It is my daily reminder of how wonderful and precious life really is."

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You can find out more about Sarajane and the work she does here. Meanwhile, to help support mums as they embark on their breastfeeding journey, BabyDoc Club has launched a 'First Feeding Box' available to order online now.

Image via Sarajane

Read more: 100 essential tips for first-time parents

Read more: How to leave the house with two under two

 

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